A Walk on the Wildside

Jennifer Yao

As Bryce Kelly reflects on his volunteer work at Wildside, Saddleback’s junior high ministry, he realizes many of God’s endless promises in his life have been swung open by junior highers. When he started volunteering as a junior in high school, his first impression of them was like most adults: spunky and hard to connect with individuals dragged to church every week by their parents. Through his work in the junior high ministry, Bryce grew to discover the truth about teenagers; they hunger for love and acceptance just like adults. Along with finding his purpose in life, he also redefined teenagers as upbeat, creative, positive, and inspiring adolescents.

Growing up in a Christian family, Bryce was blessed with an unwavering belief in God’s existence, and acknowledged his faith in God during 7th grade. Attending Saddleback Church as a young child, he watched God’s unbelievable miracles happen to countless individuals around him. He continued to volunteer at Wildside beyond high school. Soon Bryce found himself in the path of becoming a junior pastor, a miracle in his own life. God illuminated his life’s mission via this ministry of Saddleback Church.

There were times when it seemed difficult to communicate and diffuse knowledge into the teenagers’ developing minds, as teens typically have a “know-it-all” outlook, but Bryce tapped into God’s relentless guidance and patience and found a way to connect. Bryce never expected his volunteer work in high school to change his life; he just knew his love for his junior high students grew with each weekend service.

Accompanying junior highers on a Costa Rica mission trip inspired Bryce and helped him realize the international impact of Saddleback Church. He worked alongside the students, helping local churches, visiting orphanages in Costa Rica to share God’s prayers for the children, and feeding the many homeless who were unable to satisfy their own hunger.

During the trip, Bryce spent time zip-lining through the pin-drop-silent tropical jungle of Costa Rica, the balmy tropical winds clearing his mind. For two hours, he zip-lined through lush greenery of the jungle hundreds of feet in the air, and it was there God’s presence radiated into his soul. “I felt the presence of God, everything was just so beautiful…That was when I felt God tell me I needed to go home and go into a full time ministry.” Bright neon colored birds rejoiced with him and flew over his head as if justifying the choice that had just echoed in his thoughts.

After interning with Wildside this past summer, God continued to be faithful. At the end of the summer, Bryce got hired on staff and now serves as Wildside Director of Operations. Ever since, the junior highers at Wildside have never failed to reassure Bryce that his life decision had been right on.